WASHINGTON -- For six months, Rep. Tom McMillen has been nervously awaiting the news that Defense Secretary Richard Cheney was to deliver today.
During that time, McMillen has enlisted 40 House colleagues, including the other seven members of the Maryland delegation to the House, to ward off an attempt to close any of the state's 12 military research laboratories as part of the Defense Department's plan to close military bases.
Even now, at the last moment, McMillen was fielding phone calls from constituents and --ing off letters to military officials in anticipation of a decision by Cheney, who is widely expected to propose that more than 30 bases be closed or scaled back in the United States and Europe.
Another 100 military installations also may be affected.
McMillen is not alone in his unease: Virtually the entire Congress is waiting for the defense secretary's announcement.
"We don't know if our message has necessarily gotten through, but sometimes the only way a message gets through is when Congress speaks loudly and clearly," said McMillen. He has vowed to work to defeat the plan if the research laboratories are on the list.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., also called Cheney to appeal on behalf of the Whidbey Island Naval Station in Oak Harbor, Wash. Whidbey Island and Fort Ord in California were expected to be among the largest of the casualties in Cheney's continuing plan to reduce the military, Pentagon officials said this week.
But Cheney's announcement marks only the beginning of the formal process, which began informally more than a year ago and has developed into a highly political and bitter exchange among Congress, the White House and an independent commission appointed by the president to assemble a final list from Cheney's selections.
After Cheney briefs members of Congress on his suggestions for closings and presents his list to the eight members of the commission today, his role in the new process, approved by Congress last year, will end.
The commission, headed by James A. Courter, a former Republican representative from New Jersey, will have 45 days to wrangle over Cheney's candidates, adding or deleting bases on the list.
During this time, the commission will hold public hearings and take comments from lawmakers. It is expected to send its recommendations to the president by July 1.
The president must either accept or reject the entire list by July 15.
Congress will have 45 days -- or no later than the end of the first session of Congress, usually in the fall -- to reject the entire plan; it may not add or delete individual bases. If Congress does not reject it, the entire plan would then take effect.